Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Vacation Rentals Revisited

In 2005, we wrote about the many benefits for holiday makers of staying in an apartment or house over a hotel. We pointed out that for good value, privacy and authenticity, you just can’t beat renting. In 2009, renting has become an even more popular choice as holiday makers search for ways to stretch their dwindling travel budgets. So, we thought it would be a useful to revisit the topic, but this time, we consulted a couple who are the masters at renting apartments all over the world. Here’s their advise:

We have had great luck with VRBO.com (vacation rental by owner). Too many years of business travel have left us both jaded when it comes to hotels, and years of teaching customer service skills to people in the hospitality industry have left me overly sensitized to hotel service failures. Using VRBO we found a lovely garden apartment in Venice with a walled and rose filled garden; a perfect place to sit and sip a glass of prosecco at dusk. VRBO also led us to a charming two bedroom in Portovenere, a harbor town at the southern tip of the Ligurian Riviera, with a terrace overlooking Poet’s Bay (so named because Lord Byron during his stays there would, on occasion, take an evening swim across the bay). In the late afternoon, after returning from a day of hiking the Cinque Terre trials, I would pick lemons from our garden, and used them to infuse a grappa based aperitif with the pungent flavor and aroma of an Italian summer evening. My traveling companions promptly dubbed my concoction a ‘Portovenere Stunner’, and it, along with a large bowl of olives, became the centerpiece of our sundowner hour on the terrace over the bay.

VRBO rentals can also offer unexpected pluses. In Vienna our landlord kindly met us at the train station and drove us to our flat, and then spent a pleasant hour with a map of the city, pointing out his favorite restaurants, museums and art galleries’ - all an easy walk from our building. Our hostess in Portovenere responded swiftly to our call informing her that dishwasher wasn’t working, and showed up with her husband, father, and two children. The excitement of their arrival attracted the interest of several neighbors, who joined them, and they all crowded into our little kitchen where, after much animated discussion, the dishwasher was enthusiastically dismembered. After more discussion and a thoughtful examination of the dishwasher parts by all, it was concluded that this machine had washed its last dish. As compensation, we were left with a large bowl of pasta, two bottles of wine, and a vase filled with summer flowers, not to mention the warm feeling that we really belonged. From then onward we exchanged a friendly ‘Ciao’ with our neighbors daily, complicit and comfortable in a way that people can be only after dismantling an appliance together. The next day, a new dishwasher was installed and delivered before our return from the hiking trails.

VRBO rentals range widely in price, though I usually try to limit cost to $200 per night. Most recently we stayed in a comfortable 3 bedroom apartment in Prague, located just a 10 minute walk from the Charles Bridge. Our cost was just under $200 per night. Properties are listed with numerous photographs, and a comprehensive description. Landlords will usually take credit cards, or a bank wire, and will provide you with a contract. I’ve been using them for years and never had a problem.

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